Thursday, September 16, 2010

when I love homeschool

One of the things I love about homeschooling is that I get to find out who my children are. As people, as individuals, and as learners.

I get to hang out with them every day. Discover what they are interested in. What they think. How they think and why. How they invent. What they invent. How they learn. These discoveries make me feel closer to them, more connected. And that connection makes me buzz.

I love homeschool the most when I open myself up completely to who my children are, unconditionally. When I accept and embrace the ways my children learn, even when it goes against my own learning style or the ways I thought education had to happen.

When I do that, our Homeschool Land becomes the best place in the world.

This has been a big challenge for me, with my girl. It has taken me over a year of homeschooling to begin to see and embrace the unique learner that she is, and to recognize that who my daughter is, is inextricably linked to the learner that she is.

my daughter, the artist

I recognised my daughter as an artist years ago, but I only recently began to understand how this part of her is connected to everything she does. She sees the world from the perspective of the artist, constantly. It's beautiful and inspiring. And it is how she learns.

She makes things all the time, every day, all day, well into the night sometimes. She uses her hands to create, draw, build, play, constantly.

She makes paper animals and cloth animals and makes them toys to play with. Yesterday she spent hours finishing up a house for her toy cats, constructing rooms, beds, sinks, showers, a spa for the pet fish.

Last week, she created an intricately-designed cardboard lizard with opening jaws—she thought to have straps inside the mouth so her hand could open and shut it with ease. I would never have thought of that.

When she writes a story, she has to draw pictures on every page. She draws all the time.

She loves books, but especially loves the ones with visual images included—nature books, younger kids' picture books, chapter books.

She adores animals, and inhales information books about them—she pores over the pictures as much as the words. And when she's committed a detail to memory, it pops up just like that in a drawing of a leopard, a deer, an elephant. Tiny details that I would have missed show up in her art. She misses nothing.

my daughter, the maths student

I have known my daughter is an artist for years. But it has taken watching my daughter learn (or try to learn) maths for me to really see how the artist is connected—like skin, or breathing—to the learner.

I assumed my daughter would learn from a maths workbook, just like her brother. Workbooks are simple; you buy one, you work through it, get help for the tricky bits, move on. Because I never liked or felt confident about maths, I thought it was something you just got over with, like medicine, or vegetables you don't like, to get to the more fun stuff like writing stories, drawing, painting, and music.

I think we've always had a difficult relationship with maths in our Homeschool Land. It's our sticky patch, the one area that really doesn't embrace my ideal of "Life Learning."

Because while I have never been a huge fan of traditional maths, I've felt like it had to be done, regardless of what my children would prefer to do. And we've done it in the way I've always done it, because in my head, if the kids asked for help, that's how I'd be able to "teach" it. I think a lot of people who are entering the world of natural learning/life learning/unschooling have felt this way about maths too. It's a tough one (and deserves its own post, I think!).

Sometimes traditional learning works, if your kids can learn that way and fit that mold. But it's really tough if you have a girl whose learning style is so different from the way you learned that in the tricky times, when you can't explain in a way your girl understands, and she gets stuck, you both panic.

That's when I feel terrible.

Sadness, fear and complaints make me aware that I'm asking the kids to do something they don't like, or in a way they don't like. It makes me feel guilty, anxious, angry with myself, and frustrated that the kids don't want to swallow their maths medicine fast, and just get on with it.

So maths time in our house has had a lot of tears, especially for my daughter. That sucks, because in my image of Homeschool Land, at least the image I hold dear, no-one cries when learning. No-one gets frustrated, resentful, or resists. It is supposed to be a sweet place where learning equals joy.

Maths doesn't equal joy for my girl. At least, traditional, scheduled, book-learned, get-it-over-with maths rarely does.

But when her hands and her artist heart are allowed to be the learners, it does. It brings joy and then some.

my daughter, the learner

When she plays Timez Attack and launches numbers at a door to learn her times tables, maths equals joy. When she gets to another level and has to jump over rotating 3-dimensional grids to get to the next question, it equals joy.

When she does her time4learning maths and gets to put a yellow five with a blue 2 and make a green seven, it equals joy.

When I pull out the Cuisenaire rods to learn addition and subtraction and she uses them to create an amazing multi-coloured owl, and says, "Look at my owl!" and then makes Cuisenaire cats, cats, cats. Joy.

When she sits to write number sentences and says, "I love those little plus and equals signs."

When she writes numbers and realises they can be turned into animals, the fives into birds and puppies, the sixes into pigs, and a cat with a zero for a face.

When she is given free rein to draw a page of number animals, and fills the page with them, even a trio of number critters standing on a dais having won some race.

When she then draws an intricate map of where the number pets live, including a key to show bridges, roundabouts, cows.

When she builds, constructs, designs, creates—all of which take so many maths smarts you'd need a page to list them all.

This is when maths equals joy.

When the artist and the learner meet.

When they are allowed to meet.

When the learning being asked of my daughter can be translated into a language that is hers.

When no pressure is placed and freedom is given.

When she can be the learner she is and the person she is and this is celebrated without condition.

When I don't crowd her with expectation and fear (all ingrained, all my own shackles).

When she is.

And that's when I love homeschool.


  1. your daughter sounds so much like my Maddy (9) - if only I could be so eloquent in my writing as you. I have only just recently started reading, but your blog is now my favourite. Keep it up. Mrs McAwesome.

  2. Helena,

    another lovely post, your DD reminds me of me when I was a girl and I wish Id had a teacher like you. Maths was a big bad monster for years until I was in year 8 at high school, when I got a wonderful gifted teacher and he gave me the key to the wonderful world of maths, it became my favourite subject and has been a joy throughout my life-

    may you unlock that gift your your DD-

  3. Thanks, Jessie! I'm glad you're enjoying my blog—that's really lovely to hear. :-) And thanks Louise, for this comment (and all your earlier comments); I love hearing from you.
    And Snap!—I also had a year 8 maths teacher who turned my math journey around. I still didn't love it, but at least I stopped failing (!). Ironically, it's since we started homeschooling that I began to discover that maths can be amazing—if you don't fear it, or see it as "work." I hope my girl discovers that too…in her own time, on her own journey…


I love hearing from you! Thank you for your heartfelt, thoughtful responses—they lift me, and give me light.